One of central tenets of Conservative Party policy on defence, most recently repeated in the 2005 election manifesto is that it supports European co-operation on defence but strongly believes that such co-operation should take place within the framework of Nato.
Yet, despite the dramatic intensification of European defence integration pursued by Blair's Labour government – to which, it would seem the Conservatives are opposed in principle – the Conservative front bench has been mute on the developments which have occurred since Blair's agreement with Chirac at St. Malo to re-energise the process.
This silence was particularly evidence in the complete lack of response to the "framework agreement" referred to in my previous post, despite the profound implications of that treaty.
Then, when it came to the establishment of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in June 2004, which was a natural follow-on from the framework agreement and represented yet another leap in defence integration, entirely outwith Nato, far from protesting, the Conservatives actually supported it.
The lack of opposition here was especially puzzling as establishing the EDA was a part of the EU Constitution, to which the Conservative Party was opposed, yet here was an example of the European Union pre-empting the ratification by setting up the EDA as an intergovernmental body pending full approval of the Constitution, whence it would become a fully-fledged community institution.
What we seemed to have, therefore, was – in the style of Sherlock Holmes – "the dog that did not bark". From this the question arises as to whether the Conservatives were (and still are) displaying their general incompetence as an opposition – a phenomenon with which we have become sadly familiar – or whether something more sinister was at play.
To answer the question, we must go right back to the original Treaty of Rome and note that Article 223 of that original treaty states that arms production and trade are exempted from any common European regulations. Furthermore, no subsequent EU agreement has changed this status, to which effect, there is no compulsion on the part of any UK government to undertake co-operative measures, at an EU level, on arms procurement or development
Nevertheless, as we well know, the "colleagues" have never let a little thing like the absence of a treaty agreement get in the way of their ambitions. Thus, as early as 1976, only three years after the UK had joined the then EEC, they set up a stand-alone organisation called the Independent European Programme Group (IEPG).
Comprised of the National Armaments Directors (NADs) of all European Nato states except Iceland. (Belgium; Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom), this at least had the "fig-leaf" that it was working within the Nato membership, but nonetheless, along with the European Defence Industries Group (EDIG) – formed the same year, its aim was "to pursue… a more rational production of defence equipment and the enhancement of technological capabilities in selected areas."
The true aim of the organisation, of course, was to establish a European Armaments Agency (which is what the newly formed European Defence Agency is, in all but name), but it was not until 1989 that IEPG took its next move, forming an organisation called EUCLID (European Co-operation for the Long Term in Defence), to push the objective a little further forward. During the earlier part of that year, of course, we had Conservative Secretary of State for Defence, George Younger, followed on 24 July by Tom King.
The next milestone in the journey was Maastricht. On 10 December 1991, Defence Ministers, including Tom King, acting under the banner of the Western European Union (WEU) signed a Declaration calling for "further examination of the possibilities for enhanced co-operation in the field of armaments, with the aim of creating a European Armaments Agency."
Then, in December 1992, the defence ministers, this time with Malcom Rifkind representing the UK, met in Bonn to transfer of the functions of the IEPG to the WEU. What seemed a minor technical move at the time was followed in March 1993, with Rifkind still at the helm, by the creation of an "ad hoc Study Group". This was told to "examine all matters related to the possible creation of a European Armaments Agency (EAA)."
At that time, though, the Group concluded that although conditions did not yet exist for the creation of an agency conducting the full range of procurement activities, there was perhaps the potential to conduct of cooperative business through a body having a legal personality.
At the May 1993 meeting of the WEU Council of Ministers, in Rome, therefore, ministers decided to formalise armaments co-operation with a new organisation called the Western European Armaments Group (WEAG). Its objectives were: more efficient use or resources through, inter alia, increased harmonization of requirements; the opening up of national defence markets to cross-border competition; to strengthen the European defence technological and industrial base; cooperation in research and development.
By 1995, Rifkind was on his way out, to be replaced by the supposedly Eurosceptic Michael Portillo on 5 July. That year, the Council of Ministers took a major step to break away from Nato, setting up through COREPER a working group known as POLARM. Its job was to examine whether the trade in military equipment between member states could be simplified. A central issue here was multilateral arrangements that exchanged technology and multinational defence industrial projects among EU (not Nato) members.
The POLARM group was in fact working within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (the first and the second pillar of the EU), and its brief was to advice the Council on how to implement a European Armaments Policy. One of its initiatives, in 1996 – still on Portillo's watch – was to set up THALES (Technology Arrangements for Laboratories for Defence European Science).
Then, on 7/8 November 1996, in the dying days of the Major government he went to Bordeaux to meet his French counterparts to agree bilateral UK-French naval co-operation. This, in fact, was the first of three agreements, the next in November 1997, by which time the Conservatives were no longer in power and Portillo was not even an MP. But that agreement, on Army co-operation, and the one following in 1998, on Air Force co-operation, had all been set up on Portillo's watch, and it was from these that Blair's St. Malo agreement naturally followed.
And, in the wake of the Bordeaux agreement, Portillo still had time to agree, on 12 November 1996, the creation of OCCAR (Organisation Conjoint de Cooperation en matiere d'ARmement). This was established by Administrative Arrangement on 12th November 1996 by the Defence Ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the UK. Its aim was "to provide more effective and efficient arrangements for the management of certain existing and future collaborative armament programmes."
Even then, he was not done. At a WEU meeting on 18/19 November 1996, on the recommendation of the ad hoc Study Group, he and his fellow ministers agreed to the creation of the Western European Armaments Organisation (WEAO), a subsidiary body to the WEU and a precursor to a European armaments agency, aka European Defence Agency.
The WEAO shared the international legal personality of WEU and therefore provided the necessary legal framework for cooperative armaments activities, but it was not to last long. In June 2004, EU members agreed to the creation of the European Defence Agency, which also took up implementing the "framework agreement" and, on 22 April 2005 the Steering Board of the EDA announced that it was going to take over the activities of WEAG and WEAO.
Labour Secretary of State Geoof Hoon, therefore, might have been the man to have finally seen the fruition of the long-held ambition of creating a European Armaments Agency, but it had been Conservative ministers who, throughout its long gestation period, had helped it towards its birth.
The importance of its work was emphasised in a report to the WEU on 4 December 2002, when the Rapporteur declared that , "The future of armaments Europe is indissociable from the development of a European defence, in accordance with the popular slogan calling for more Europe," adding, that there must be the political will and a budgetary effort "which can no longer be confined to the purely national level."
"Maintaining the status quo", he concluded, "would be tantamount to letting European military capabilities continue to deteriorate. At the end of the day, this would thwart all ambitions of creating a Europe that is both a political and a military power."
Those are the ambitions: creating a European that is both a political and military power. And the Conservatives have been up to their armpits, helping the "colleagues" achieve their dreams. No wonder the dog didn't bark.